Along with the news about COVID-19, many companies quickly felt the need to change from normal office work to remote work. We have been successfully using Home Office for over seven (7) years. With more than 40 employees from 14 different countries, we were one of the first companies in Switzerland to welcome 100% remote working. In recent years, we have been able to report on our experiences with Remote Work at the Swiss Economic Forum and the Rochester-Bern Executive MBA, among others.
In times of the Corona crisis and the accompanying changes, we offer companies support with this guide and our expertise.
Do you want to venture on the transition from everyday office life to home office normality? The end result is worth it - you'll see that Remote Work is more than just Skype or FaceTime. Remote Work means above all new flexibility, increased productivity, work ethic and independence.
How must we adapt processes so that they continue to run over the web without issues? How can the corporate culture be maintained? And what resources are needed in practical terms to keep a business running?
Use our guide to get concise answers to the most difficult questions. You will find tips and tricks on all relevant topics. From work organisation to the introduction of online coffee breaks and data security.
This guide is a work-in-progress. We are constantly working to keep it up to date with the necessary updates.
Remote Work refers to working outside of a traditional office environment. The employee is in contact with the company online and by telephone. It must be possible to complete the work tasks completely online. Home office refers to working from home, remote work refers to working from any location.
Remote work has been a trend for many companies for years - more and more companies are switching to home office. The model offers a variety of advantages:
Not only the actual time saved in the commute, but also the effects on employees well-being and the contribution to sustainability speak in favour of eliminating daily commuting.
More qualified candidates
Remote Work means that talents from all over the world can work for a company, depending on individual needs. The choice of potential, qualified employees is growing. Especially among younger candidates, the desire for remote work is sometimes a basic requirement. With the possibility of Remote Work, a company is taking an important step towards employer branding.
Remote Work eliminates the need for office space and thus reduces operating costs.
Contrary to the widespread myth, according to a study by Stanford University, productivity in the home office increases by a whole 77%. There is less unnecessary distraction and you increase focused time. A survey by Global Workplace even confirms that 53% of employees who work remotely are willing to work overtime. For office workers, the figure is only 28%. Particularly when it comes to creative work, having your own four walls can make a positive contribution to the flow of ideas.
Flexible working hours
It depends largely on the needs of the company how much leeway can actually be guaranteed with regard to flexible working hours. Apart from joint team meetings and deadlines, it does make sense to guarantee the employee time flexibility. The productivity of each individual varies individually. By making these adjustments, maximum employee efficiency can be achieved.
Greater employee loyalty
According to Forbes, 54% of the employees surveyed confirm that they would be willing to change jobs to get more flexibility. In addition, an employee would be 13% more likely to stay with a company that offers remote work than with another company for the next five years.
For employees who have never worked remotely before, it will certainly not be an easy transition to work without personal contact with colleagues. Especially if there is a very good atmosphere at the office in general and you maintain a good relationship with the team.
It is therefore extremely important to organise regular online meetings, telephone calls and chats in order to promote a sense of community and prevent employees from feeling isolated despite having a home office.
Communication is asynchronous and less spontaneous - this must be counteracted with the right tools and clear rules. Certain feedback times, clear communication channels and targeted inquiries in case of ambiguities must be ensured. Remote work also often lacks the possibility of direct control and evaluation of the work. On the one hand, it must be ensured that the necessary trust is present, on the other hand, responsibility must be consciously accepted.
Since work and leisure time mix, it is difficult for many employees to find a regular work-life balance, especially at the beginning. Here, too, it is important to communicate with the team and arrange the distribution of tasks in such a way that employees have clear working and rest times despite the remote work culture.
Employees are lonely
There is a lack of everyday office life with colleagues, but this does not mean that all social contacts are lost. It depends to a large extent on the motivation of the company, for example how regular online hangouts are organized. You can also get in touch with all your colleagues and interact in a video chat.
Employees do not know how to work in a team
Especially with virtual work, one is sometimes even more dependent on cooperation. Here too, you should communicate a lot as a team and work with the right tools and platforms.
Employees work less
Only because they do not work in a shared office, it doesn't mean that lazing around is on the agenda. Even with remote work, normal working hours regulate the daily routine. Especially for ambitious employees it can be rather difficult to find the balance between working and resting times. Here it is important to take advantage of the well-deserved relaxation after a working day and not to be on call 24/7.
Remote work no longer means data protection
Many companies fear that their data protection is at risk when employees are spread across the world working on their own laptops and possibly unprotected servers. In the meantime, however, technology in the IT sector has developed to such an extent that there really are many ways to work in a protected environment. IT security is the be-all and end-all. Cloud based applications, two-factor authentication and virtual private networks (VPN) allow information to be encrypted and not passed on to unauthorized persons.
With remote work, a detailed daily schedule is important to organize work in the best possible way. This personal schedule helps set clear goals for the day. It is only by switching to home office that no (good) employee will suddenly be unable to meet their obligations. It is important to give clear instructions, but also to show confidence in the team. Trust is an important factor of internal communication to increase the self-motivation of the employees and thus also to increase productivity.
Remote Work is not useful for every company. Overall, companies in the ICT sector, the service industry and the media and communications industry are best suited for it. However, Remote Work does not necessarily have to be introduced company-wide. It should be clarified department by department whether Remote Work makes sense. In most companies it will turn out that, with the exception of a few departments, such as production and logistics, a change is generally possible.
Set no limits
Remote work means that everyday work and leisure can take place at the same place. Clear boundaries and the necessary work-life balance are important. A realistic to-do list and regulated working hours can be helpful - above all, breaks should not be forgotten.
Processes not consistently digitalised
Remote Work requires that processes and all their tasks can be handled online. It must be ensured that all individual stages are digitized and that all individual tasks can be consistently completed from anywhere. Mixing analog and digital processes leads to misunderstandings and loss of efficiency.
Not training employees properly
Remote work requires rethinking and reorganization. To ensure that all new processes and working methods run smoothly, it is essential that employees are carefully and thoroughly trained. Only if each individual is properly trained and knows where their responsibilities and freedoms lie can the processes continue to function.
Underestimate resources and tools
Hardware and software must be available to all employees at all times. Necessary online tools that enable smooth corporate communication as well as high-speed Internet and a laptop with enough storage space should be the minimum requirements.
In every organization, communication is essential for productive collaboration. In teams that work remotely, the importance of communication is increased many times over. Since people primarily or even exclusively exchange information online, special attention must be paid to what, when and how they communicate.
Whereas in conventional companies, synchronous communication is standard in meetings or spontaneous 1-on-1s, in organizations that are set up remotely, communication is primarily asynchronous, i.e. time-shifted. Asynchronous communication includes, among other things, news and blog articles on online platforms and the recording of video messages.
The advantage of asynchronous communication is the flexibility to retrieve information at any time and to react to it at any time. Employees are thus less disturbed during their focus time. For urgent matters, it is important to set a deadline for responses.
Asynchronous or written communication lacks nuances that we perceive in face-to-face conversations. For example, it is not intuitively clear to the author whether a message has been read and understood or not. It is therefore absolutely necessary to communicate proactively and often. When messages are received, a short confirmation should be sent and in case of ambiguities, the author should be asked immediately.
Since written communication eliminates secondary information such as gestures and facial expressions, it is very important to communicate clearly and consciously. Feelings may need to be expressed in writing. Emojis can also help to create context and communicate more clearly what is meant.
For emotionally charged topics or topics of a complex nature, video messages are suitable as an asynchronous alternative to meetings. Tools such as Loom allow short video messages to be recorded and quickly shared. The recipients can link their comments and questions directly to the video. In this way, the advantages of asynchronous communication can be used and at the same time the challenges of written communication can be mitigated.
Because a large part of communication takes place in writing, an appropriate tool must be found. E-mail programs are not suitable for this purpose, as information is difficult to retrieve later and discussions are difficult to structure. For internal communication, it is therefore recommended to do without e-mail programs completely and to use tools such as Slack or Microsoft Teams instead.
Asynchronous communication offers many advantages. All company-relevant information is accessible and retrievable for employees at all times. If poorly structured, this can lead to a flood of information. It is therefore important to define clear communication and topic channels. In this way, each employee only receives the information that is relevant to him or her.
Meetings are of course also highly relevant for companies that work remotely. Although many meetings are replaced by news in favour of employee productivity and satisfaction, regular meetings should still be planned. The best way is via video chat with Zoom, Hangouts or Skype.
Efficiency can be increased with the right tools. Specialized applications such as whereby and zoom are preferable. For communication during the video meeting a good internet connection is mandatory and the participants should be sure that they are undisturbed during the whole duration. As preparation, everyone present should have thought about the topic and have written it down in a place accessible to everyone so that the video meeting can be used to discuss possible solutions.
Remote work means loss of control and therefore requires real trust. As a manager, this means trusting that employees will do their jobs conscientiously.
In an environment that is set up remotely, the application of output-oriented guidance is suitable. In this way, clear goals are set together with the employees and they themselves are made responsible for ensuring that these goals are met. An OKR (Objectives and Key Results) environment is ideal for goal setting and tracking.
In an organisation that is set up remotely, it is essential that roles are clearly assigned. Since employees are often left to their own devices during their daily work, the whole team must be aware of who is responsible for which tasks. This ensures that any problems are reported immediately to the responsible person.
Since cooperation in teams that work remotely is decentralized, regular exchange and constant feedback is all the more important. Continuous personal development and work improvement should take place together with the employees. For example, internal debriefings after project completion can be used to draw employees' attention to mistakes, highlight positive aspects of the project and provide honest feedback.
Regular 1-on-1 meetings with the employees help the manager to support them as a coach. In this way, efficient team leadership is also possible remotely.
In companies that operate remotely, there is less spontaneous exchange between managers and employees. For this reason, five to ten minutes of time for small talk should be deliberately allowed for before meetings. In this way, managers can also find out about the situation of team members during video meetings.
It can be difficult to intuitively grasp what the well-being of employees is like. Therefore, it is important to ask the employees consciously during 1-on-1 meetings. In this way, interpersonal problems can be identified and resolved early on.
In a remote work environment, it is recommended to switch to the annual working time model. In this case, employees must have reached their hours at the end of the year and must not be working weekly hourly rates. This model gives employees the flexibility and freedom that a remote work environment offers.
Absences, holidays and free hours must be clearly entered in the online calendar so that all employees know when people are present or absent. Overtime or undertime is best discussed directly via video call in order to plan the next steps. The actual working hours are often flexible and the time available increases. The completion of to-dos on the mobile phone should be avoided during free times and fall on regular working hours.
Our experience shows that Remote Work only works properly if all relevant processes can run independently of location. Therefore, all steps should be digitalized consistently. This makes it easier for both employees and managers to work together.
Since Remote Work often involves working at different times and employees are often left to their own devices while carrying out their work, it is very important that all work steps are clearly defined in advance. Otherwise, unnecessary iteration rounds will occur, which is more time-consuming and laborious in a remote environment than when everyone works on site.
Since most information is stored in writing, it is essential to define uniform communication channels and data storage in advance. Otherwise there is a risk that data cannot be found later. It should be clearly defined: Which topics are discussed on which channel? Which data is stored in which databases? Who has access to these databases and permission to make changes?
Since web tools are often accessed, especially in decentralized work, a high level of IT security is absolutely essential. It is recommended to find a single sign-on solution for the individual web applications or alternatively to introduce a password manager such as Lastpass or 1Password. Furthermore, a two-factor authentication should be required for all devices.
When working from home, a number of things need to be taken into account so that productivity does not suffer. It is advisable to set up a workroom that is separate from the other rooms. Otherwise family members - especially children - can massively disturb the work. Clear working hours should be agreed with the family. At these times one should remain undisturbed.
In the home office, too, an ergonomic chair should be invested in so that back problems do not plague the user, even when working for several hours.
In the home office, working and private time often merge. A coffee break with your partner or laundry lying around can quickly lead to interruptions. It is therefore important to enter the working hours consistently and not to enter those that belong to leisure time.
In an environment that functions remotely, there is not the same degree of spontaneity as in a conventional office. Every meeting usually serves a purpose. Spontaneous coffee breaks should therefore be proactively planned and made rule. Two or more employees meet via video chat without a predefined agenda and exchange information informally.
Another way of exchanging information informally is to plan a time slot of, for example, five minutes for small talk before team meetings. This allows employees to tell each other stories about the weekend and update each other.
In Remote Work, employees will mainly exchange information online on the messaging platforms. It pays off to maintain this online community. Group chats can be introduced which are solely intended to share funny memes, videos or sayings from the Internet. This leads to a relaxed working atmosphere and promotes team cohesion.
Another possibility to get to know the team better and to strengthen it are virtual evenings off. Here the whole team meets via video conference app and exchanges ideas in a relaxed atmosphere over a beer after work.
In order to give employees the opportunity to exchange ideas in their free time, activities can also be planned and carried out online. For example, a virtual film evening can be organised by streaming a film via Twitch and the team can exchange ideas via group chat.
Despite the many advantages of remote work, it still takes regular human contact to establish a real connection. Annual or semi-annual company retreats are suitable for this. In these, the whole company meets for a week, working and living physically in the same place. This way you get to know each other, make friends and return to your home office strengthened and motivated.
Under the following link we have compiled a checklist for the successful introduction of Remote Work for download:
We hope that we can make a valuable contribution to other companies with this guide to switching to Remote Work. This guide will be continuously supplemented and expanded. For this we are dependent on your feedback.
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